Retired Lt. Gen. Jacinto C. Ligot and his wife, Erlinda Ligot, who had both been charged by four counts of tax deficiencies worth Php428 million, has been acquitted by the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA).
The CTA Third Division acquitted the Ligots in a decision promulgated January 8—mainly because of an extensive paper trail of bank evidence was stricken off the record for violating bank secrecy laws.
Associate Justice Ma. Belen Ringpis-Liban said in the decision written by herself with the concurrence from Associate Justice Erlinda Uy:
“With the state of the evidence in these consolidated cases, the prosecution failed to prove that the accused Spouses Ligot have other assets purchased with [the] undeclared income.”
The Ligot-couple is now out on bail, escaping one of the biggest corruption scandals in Philippine military history, first exposed in 2004 and had culminated in multiple investigations in 2011. Back then, Ligot was a comptroller of the Armed Forces.
In his term as a comptroller, he was accused of amassing unexplained wealth.
The first to be exposed in 2004 was his successor, retired Maj Gen Carlos Garcia, who also once faced plunder charges until he entered into a plea bargain deal with under then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
After a series of Senate investigations in 2011, then military chief Angelo Reyes, who was also dragged into the issue, took his life in front of his mother’s grave.
The prosecution accused Ligot of acquiring tax deficiencies worth Php 428 million for four years since 2001.
“A perusal of the Statements of Assets Liabilities and Networth (SALNs) shows that accused Jacinto Ligot did not declare bank deposits, assets and investments, the value of which are beyond their compensation,” said the decision, citing the case built by the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution.
The prosecution added:
“Considering that accused Erlinda Ligot is described as a mere ‘housewife’ in these documents with no source of income, there can be no other conclusion that the accused Spouses Ligot failed to declare their true and correct income in their ITR, thereby evading the payment of correct income taxes.”
Aside from bank assets, the prosecution said the Ligots bought real estate properties including a 14-hectare land in Malaybalay City; two Paseo Parkview Tower 2 Condominium units with one parking slot in Makati City; a unit at Essensa East Forbes Condominum; properties in Anaheim and Orange County in California; and a parcel of land in Tanay, Rizal.
Still to face
The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) was able to generate a report of the mismatch in assets and lawful income but in 2015, the CTA struck all evidence off the record because they did not fall “within any exception of the best evidence rule.”
The CTA said the AMLC probe was sanctioned for a case at the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC)—not for the tax cases.
Bank secrecy laws in the Philippines will not apply in certain cases such as impeachment, cases related to the Human Security Act, and some kinds of forfeiture cases such as when a deposit makes its way to a wrong account and the bank needs to retrieve it.
“Those exceptions, also find no application in the case of the accused Spouses Ligot,” the CTA ruled.
“Having no assets purportedly purchased with other income, they could not have willfully violated Secs. 254 and 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC). In the face of all the foregoing, we have reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused Spouses Ligot,” added the tax court.
The Ligots are still to face a related P55-million forfeiture case at the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan.
The earlier deficiency assessment of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) still stands, according to the CTA.
“The records of this case do not show that the Formal Letter of Demand and Final Assessment Notice (FLD/FAN) was even protested by the accused Spouses Ligot despite actual knowledge thereof, as discussed above. If that is indeed the case, then as regards the civil liability of the accused Spouses Ligot arising from obligation, the FLD/FAN would have been rendered final and executory,” the CTA explained further.
Photo by Marianne Bermudez/Inquirer